Football’s pre-season is the same every year. The fans of respective teams are excited from the summer layover and wholly overconfident in their team’s ability to win games. We analyze our team’s roster and supply effusive praise for our team’s combination of “veteran leaders”, “promising young players”, and “scrappy special teamers”. Then all of a sudden a promising young player (eg: Taylor Price) and a veteran leader (eg: Lee Evans) gets cut, and as fans, we’re left scrambling to reconstruct the mental confidence we had in a team that’s not going to be built quite as we thought.
I know some of you are thinking, “Zain, who in the world thought that Lee Evans was going to make an impact? Or Taylor Price. Any Jaguar fan that thought that is either crazy or stupid. They’re the same fans that are begging us to re-sign David Garrard or give Jerry Porter another go.” To those of you, I’d ask – which Jaguars wide receivers do you think will make an impact this year? And in response, I’ll probably hear cries for Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Cecil Shorts, and Mike Thomas, but I bet I’d also hear cries (albeit of lesser intensity) for Brian Robiskie, Chastin West, Kevin Elliot, and shoot even Mike Brown (c’mon Mike Brown fans – if he can’t even catch a punt how’s he going to catch the lasers Gabbert’ll be throwing?).
At the end of the day, most fans take a liking to certain sleepers that are on their team’s roster and that they believe have the potential to make a huge leap in the coming season. Whether it’s due to the adjustment from the college game, injury, or just a lack of opportunity, as fans we have an unparalleled ability to hone in on reasons why the said sleeper had not succeeded in the past and why he will be able to succeed in the coming year. Heck, I won’t lie, I was big on the Taylor Price bandwagon entering the NFL draft, and I was stoked when the Patriots cut him and the Jaguars were able to snag him. I knew he was going to be a bit of a project – I mean he’s a small school guy who was a jack-of-all trades kind of player at Ohio where he never dominated the competition – but he has the size (6’1) and speed (4.3-4.4) and route running ability (according to “evaluators”) to make it in the NFL. I saw this year as an opportunity for him to have a couple of impact games (4+ catch / 50+ yard) while adjusting to the NFL competition – you know, teasing us with a small showcase of his ability the way Zach Miller does every year.
But the point of this article isn’t to talk about how great Taylor Price would’ve been (he still might be, if he clears waivers and he’s still with us next season). It’s to talk about how we as fans set ourselves up for disappointment, every year. We delude ourselves with visions of grandeur for players with realistically very limited chances to succeed. Aka, the Taylor Prices of this world. Let’s take a look at defensive end, shall we? Now, if you look at an early roster breakdown, you’ll see only five defensive ends on the roster (six if John Chick ever recovers from his knee injury, I believe). Of these five, Jaguars fans will universally be rooting for Andre Branch to take a huge step during his rookie season; however, promising young talents like Aaron Morgan and Austen Lane will have their advocates among the Jaguar faithful too (any George Selvie fans out there?) – in the same, incredibly optimistic way that I was hoping for a Taylor Price showing this year.
In the preseason, we football fans see our team’s roster in the exact opposite way that most people see cancer – it’s happening all around them, but surely it won’t affect them. On the flip side, us football fans hear stories of unlikely heroes of NFL franchises – the Kurt Warners and Tom Bradys of the world and team studs like Wes Welker and Marques Colston – and every preseason we hold onto a delusionally optimistic hope that the perfect storm of opportunity and growth will happen to some of our players. And in the process we always overestimate growth; we always overestimate opportunity; and we always underestimate injury (sometimes perennially – Zach Miller).
By the end of the preseason, it’s incredible that we football fans don’t fall into depression – as players like Eben Britton and D’Antony Smith perennially limp off the field and players like Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller are plagued with incredible inconsistency. Yet, the one incredibly redeeming factor is that even though we plague ourselves with the burden of optimism for players with limited opportunity for success, there is always some individual success that is so pleasantly surprising that we forget all about our preseason prophesizing mishaps – one year, it’s a 7th round running back from Liberty for whom there were literally no expectations; other years, it’s a third round cornerback from William & Mary that everyone expected to be a disappointment. So basically what I’m saying is don’t worry that Taylor Price got cut; maybe this is year Brian Robiskie gets some redemption.